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5 Obstacles to a Successful Rebrand that Nobody Talks About

How many times has your company rebranded? Even if you answer, “Just once,” we’re guessing that felt like one time too many. And what was it all for? Were you able to achieve your goals? This may be hard to believe even now, but most people still mean redecorating when they say rebranding. They are talking about iterative packaging changes, new logos, and advertising campaigns. No wonder rebrands fall short.

We have identified the most common but usually unspoken circumstances that stand in the way of effectively and predictably changing your company’s market position via rebranding.

This white paper discusses strategies to manage leadership and team expectations, sacred cows, and data. These insights, along with our practical how-to response for each obstacle, will enable you to perform some organizational jujitsu, the real reason to embark on rebranding.

Most people think of creative translation issues when they think of rebranding failure. The reality is that the most common obstacles to a successful rebranding are further up funnel, during brand strategy development. And frankly they are further up the management ladder. That is, unless your definition for rebranding is really just redecorating. A true rebranding gets into the why, the how, and the what behind your brand. It’s not just skin deep and definitely not for the faint of heart.

Here are the obstacles no one seems to be talking about. Identifying and planning for these unspoken hurdles will increase the likelihood of succeeding.

Leadership Dynamics

When leadership sees branding as a marketing objective rather than a business objective, their lack of engagement is a hurdle to the rest of their team. When this occurs, it is typically due to an old-school mentality with an inaccurate understand of what branding means.

Another surprisingly common problem happens when not everyone participates in the brand development meetings. These invisible influencers from adjacent functional silos in your company probably don’t intentionally set out to throw off your attempts to use branding as a driver to create meaningful change within the business. Regardless of why they’re not there — whether you skipped them on the meeting invites or they’ve skipped thinking that all you’re going to do is sit around and talk about the artwork and back of pack copywriting  — your brand has an enrollment challenge.

When leadership at any level within your organization rejects new ideas without consideration or dialogue, your likelihood of success is greatly diminished.

The Retail Voodoo Way to align leadership during the rebrand:
We require the key leadership of your brand to participate in every strategy session, complete the exercises, and voice their opinion within the context of the group assignment. We understand business (not just design) and have a bedside manner that will connect with your team at all levels.

Team Dysfunction

When companies are siloed and view each other as obstacles rather than allies, there is a persistent level of infighting and disagreement. Before you can manage the changes necessary to create meaningful change, it is important to get everyone on the same page. People inside an organization that is a prime candidate for rebranding often have conflicting agendas born out of frustration, team performance issues, and frankly a fear of losing their job. Before you know it, people translate this to mean that they need to fear compromise because the internal culture has silently declared it a sign of weakness. The root of this internal bias, whether real or implied, is the false belief that collaboration is the same as compromise.

The Retail Voodoo Way to enroll your team in the rebrand:
We use blind surveys for all key stakeholders in order to get everyone in the organization literally on the same page. This builds bridges and overcomes personal agendas quickly.

Misaligned Expectations

Clarity is tough. All companies are impacted by relationship dynamics. Just like in life, when people don’t talk about it they create unrealistic expectations around timing and costs. And these become the barriers to rejuvenation that the organization was likely seeking through the process of rebranding.

Once the company decides that rebranding makes the most sense, it’s natural for those involved in ensuring the rebrand “sticks” to want everything to happen all at once. Then it becomes even more natural to skip a holistic plan because it needs to involve everyone in leadership – and leaders can be impatient, high concept thinkers who don’t want the minutia (except for when they do).

Lack of alignment around the time and cost implications of rebranding stems from the C-suite spreads throughout the organization. If your leadership sees rebranding as a new logo and maybe a packaging refresh, then they are likely to ask the marketing team to make critical changes without addressing the financial implications beyond the short-term marketing tactics required. Plan for 2 years of marketing and operational implications based upon a rebrand. And then add 50% of the budget and timeline for implementation.

The Retail Voodoo Way to align expectations:
Prior to embarking on the rebranding journey, work with your team to establish how you will program and finance any operational changes needed to deliver on innovation, positioning pivots, and product portfolio alignment. Our philosophy is talk it out early and often. It’s your job to budget dollars and time, but we can help plan.

Outdated Brand Equities

A product legacy has run its course and needs to be cancelled. But this is terrifying for everyone in the company if the product in question is all that the company has ever sold (or it’s the original or it’s the namesake). At Retail Voodoo, we call these outdated brand equites “sacred cows”.

Better-for-you food and beverage has become a new buzzword in the face of fast-paced evolution of consumer preferences (not to mention a playground for private equity), more single product brands, specialized ingredient-focused brands, and specialty processing brands have seen their once sustainable and market-leading position erode rapidly.

Moving away from a sacred cow is tough when you don’t see it. When your core product equity has a brand liability, and the organization responds to changing anything with phrases like, “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” you may be in for a steeper climb than you originally thought.

The Retail Voodoo Way to identify, remove, and retire your brand’s core liabilities:
Innovation and differentiation require new thinking. If it were easy, everyone would be a market-leading brand.

First, we assess your culture through research and key personnel interviews and look for your company’s appetite for change before making any recommendations. Then we will identify your brand’s core liabilities, and use data to illuminate future possibilities that cross reference your brand’s past and present.

Misinterpreted Data

When your brand believes that your employees are your best customers, your team may become prone to make strategic assumptions based off internal consensus and call it data. This confirmation bias allows your brand to make up its own rules and innovate products that only you and your employees would use. When your employees and key stakeholders insist that they are your brand’s best customers, watch out – you have three years to change this before your position in the marketplace erodes.

The Retail Voodoo Way to data interpretation:
Employee and management opinions matter, they just aren’t data. To start, you need external data. We will bring in experts who specialize in authoring the right kind of survey for your brand’s unique situation. And help you curate which the off the shelf, syndicated data (like PEW, Mintel, Neilson, and a host of others) makes the best investment for your brand. Next, we question and then synthesize data into actionable insights that map to a brand strategy before sharing it out with the entire team.

Leaders, teams, expectations, sacred cows, and data. Holy hand grenades! It’s enough to send any marketer over the edge. But don’t go there. Take heart and give yourself a moment. Rebranding requires a level head, a strong spirit, guts, and some organizational jujitsu. If you are considering a rebrand and have exhausted all other, lesser involved avenues to affect change, give us a call.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Top 5 Marketing Regrets After Rebranding

In the hands of the right CEO, CMO, and marketing team a rebrand becomes a powerful tool. But rebrands are tough. Rebrands frequently fail to generate results. Rebranding sucks. So why do it? Well, fortune, fame, and glory all lie in the balance, right?

Rebranding has produced persistent frustrations … This white paper answers your most pressing question: “How do I make my efforts at rebranding not suck?” So if you’re sure you want to go through with it, we have the answers you’re looking for.

Learn not only when and why to rebrand (and when not to rebrand) but discover the common regrets marketers have after spending an entire year rebranding their whole company and not getting the results they need.

Rebranding is a powerful but tricky landscape to navigate. The goals of a rebrand should be organizational clarity, deeper audience engagement, upgraded channel strategy, employee engagement and retention, and, of course, sales.

Many of our clients come to us as a newer employee at an inspiring brand who has been tasked with “fixing” the brand — frequently on the coattails of a rebrand with their previous employer. (It’s partly why they got the job, right?) They have had various levels of success with that rebrand, but are generally frustrated and dissatisfied with the overall process and its outcomes. There is a shared set of common, post-rebrand regrets.

Top Marketing Regrets After Rebranding

1. Changing for the wrong reasons

Given the time and cost associated with the rebranding, you would think that most people would only undertake it when their brand is outdated, broken or has been disrupted. However, difficult as it may be to believe, boredom with the brand is an all too common reason many companies decide to make changes.

Common symptoms: A serial C-suite guru recently moved into the corner office and wants a rebrand on their resume. Not everyone across the business is aware that change is imminent because the case for change was not used to bring people along before implementing the rebrand. When the new brand appears, people are scratching their heads, thinking its just another new logo and the only impact it has for them is that they will likely get a new tee shirt.

How to avoid rebranding for the wrong reasons: Find out what the business problems are before you decide a brand change is the answer. If the brand isn’t broken and there appears to be no real opportunity to disrupt and therefore take the lead in the category, do something to affect the business besides rebranding.

2. Lack of team alignment

Alignment requires ecosystems thinking. When you don‘t get enough of the right people in the room at the same time, buy-in may not be possible. It cannot be done if you opt to stay safe and snuggly inside the silo of marketing. Don’t get me wrong, working within the discipline of marketing is key, in fact, the marketing department should drive the project. But if you only involve the marketing team in the rebrand, you are setting yourself up for internal conflict. No matter how good you are, after the grand unveiling of all the hard work, your management and sales teams will come to you with details you did not consider — things that may not have crossed your mind to consider.

Common symptoms: It’s a new day, but you struggle with the same marketing problems. Sales team (and other internal teams) are not buying into the new brand because they either don’t understand it, don’t agree with it or the process of rebranding has alienated them along the way. As a result, your company’s executives are not only not promoting the rebrand but distancing themselves from it.

How to avoid lack of alignment: Rebranding requires that your company’s leadership participate both psychologically and strategically. Without their direct involvement, you cannot get deep enough into the realities facing the business to affect change. And you need their hammer. You need someone to bang the gavel and declare it so. Bring in key stakeholders from cross-functional disciplines within your organization and ask them to commit to taking the journey together.

3. Unactionable insights and strategies

Most marketers assume that creative implementation will be the biggest hurdle of a rebrand. They fail to identify and properly prepare for other hurdles along the way. A rebrand goes way beyond the marketing budget and an OOH (Out-of-home) campaign. When done well, a rebrand should provide actionable changes throughout the entire business that will improve your company’s ability to clearly make promises and then provide simple, actionable insight into how your brand should go about keeping them.

Common Symptoms: The rebrand requires a media spend and takeovers that your board will never approve, which makes the rebrand feel like just another advertising campaign to grab short-term attention for your brand. So that 500-page PDF which highlights the rebrand never gets opened by anyone but you and your agency. Other department heads and people within the organization who are familiar with the perils of rebranding don’t want to discuss your project because they working hard not to say, “I told you so”.

How to avoid unactionable insights and strategies: At the outset, establish a two-year timetable and budget for your rebrand to make sure you don’t get stuck with pie-in-the-sky thinking and no time or funds to implement it. No matter how savvy the team, there will always be that anniversary package that nobody is even thinking about yet, and updating all of your brand’s digital properties requires a matrix the size of Canada. Before you embark, manage everyone’s expectations by letting them know that it’s a long process.

4. Underestimating the pace of competition

Your rebrand is all about connecting with new audiences and finding sustainable growth opportunities. It sounds simple, but many feel the pressure to move quickly because the pace of change is exponential. It’s too easy to forget that while your team is mid-stream on a big rebranding project, your competitors are likely in the process of optimizing, refining or reinventing their brand. So you go black-ops and focus on the category leaders without considering challenger’s brands and product offerings in adjacent categories.

Common symptoms: Your brand sounds just like your competition. When you go shopping, you see 12 brands doing what your team thought would be unique. You begin to see that your brand‘s innovation pipeline is driven by feature and benefits and mostly knockoffs of other brands

How to avoid underestimating the pace of competition: You need to know the value proposition of your competitors and assess whether they successfully represent their company’s values and offerings. In order to compare your brand to competitors, you will need to conduct a comprehensive brand audit. Armed with the insights you gather here and a values-based approach, you will be far more attuned to what everyone is doing and therefore more likely to make your brand different.

5. Focusing only on visual change

Some people believe that rebranding is really just choosing a new name, new logo, or a new corporate identity. The problem with staying skin deep during a rebrand is that it’s just too easy to ignore changing consumer preferences, new competitors, and new human truths. These three drivers should be the impetus behind your decision to undergo a rebrand.

When a rebrand focuses purely on visual change it creates a risk that is often unintended. You may lose people who love your current brand because a visual approach is a beauty contest. And beauty, for all its juiciness, cannot fathom the depths of emotional attachment nor see the variety of ways that emotion, loyalty, and belonging play out in brand narratives and throughout your entire marketing ecosystem.

Common Symptoms: The new look tested really well but failed to create velocity. And your brand’s social media channels are filled with consumer backlash — people rant about the change. In the face of pushback, the rationale for the creative is no longer meaningful.

How to avoid focusing only on visual change: Take the time to understand the ways in which consumer preferences have shifted and what, if any, implications those shifts have on your brand’s positioning in consumers’ minds. Failure to dig deep enough into the human truths driving the change will increase the likelihood of failure.

Rebranding is a business focused, marketing-led response to external forces — not a re-decorating project

Rebranding is about changing the trajectory of your business. The life and death of your brand may hang in the balance. So don’t do it unless the industry, your company’s reputation, changing consumer preferences, or competition has caused the ground underfoot to shift.

Once you determine a rebrand is in order to stay viable, grow, and lead, approach it like you would having brain surgery. Go to someone you know is committed to not only keeping you alive but also to make sure that you are a badass when you wake up.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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6 Ways Agencies Fail Food & Beverage Brands

As the food and beverage category continues to hone in on the importance of natural brands across all channels, getting investors is no longer the challenge — because better-for-you brands are driving category growth and, consequently, private equity investment in food outpaces all other categories. The pace of change in the last three years has outstripped even the staggering changes of the previous decade. Natural and better-for-you brands have moved beyond the realm of Whole Foods and made Costco and Walmart the biggest retail buyers of organic products.

The game has changed; investment opportunities appear to be falling from the sky for anyone with a clean ingredient deck and a crumb of a brand story.

But we have spent the better part of the last decade deep in the boardrooms, farms, and factories with some of the well-respected players who have driven this change, and we have some potentially bad news. If you have invested in rebranding within the last three years and are not experiencing the growth you expected, your agency may have failed you. This white paper explores six unexpected ways in which we have seen the agency drive the naturals brand off the proverbial cliff.

1. Sanitizing the truth about your brand. When the creative agency doesn’t take the time to learn, analyze, and ultimately challenge the category conventions or the closed-loop thinking of the founder-owner, the company’s culture, product offering, and vision, they inadvertently default to cool and clever tactics. Without mind-melding over the real pain points (or legitimate white space innovation), any creative outreach is more likely to be slick and not grounded in business strategy. And — because they are moving quickly — they tell the brand owners what they want to hear instead of the sometimes deeply blemished truth in order to get the creative ideas approved. The result is unownable beauty.

Need proof? Flip over any better-for-you packaged food and read an origin story that sounds like this.

“I had this challenge/pain point and so I made a company. Insert clever/humorous/witty tone to cover up the lack of depth in the origin story and add sizzle.”

– The Earnest Founder

2. Faking the category audit. Was your category audit insightful or did your agency merely check the box? The most common complaint we hear from brand owners, particularly in the naturals space, is that their category audit was too sterile and looked like something an intern could have produced using Google in an afternoon.A meaningful category audit must include the sometimes-ugly reality of retail. At a minimum, this means that the category audit should showcase lighting conditions, shelf restrictions, and key adjacencies from multiple locations. This along with analysis of your channel strategy is important if your category audit is to show you both potential threats and budding opportunities for your brand.

3. Claiming social media engagement will get you trial and velocity. Many agencies are still telling clients that likes and mentions will drive sales. And perhaps while the meter is running on that vegan snack fitness influencer contract there is some traction. We have seen it time and again — when that contract ends, the likes go away; the brand is forced to resort to buying likes with coupons and promo codes. Product efficacy, a contrarian point-of-view, and transparency to back up any claims of authenticity go further than any celebrity endorsement. And while we won’t discount the growth opportunities of influencer marketing, defaulting to this single tactic won’t get you the velocities you’re looking for. Bottom line, your marketing strategy needs to be multi-faceted.

4. Calling star-power strategic branding. Using celebrities can be a powerful endorsement for your brand, particularly when they fit the positioning of your brand ethos. We have seen the likes of Jennifer Aniston, Kobe Bryant and many others assist with a brands growth potential. However, branded products and famous people in ads only works for a few minutes. Once you stop paying endorsements, your brand disappears. You also do not have control over that person’s personal life. You can look to Tiger Woods or Lance Armstrong to see what sort of collateral damage a celebrity can have on your brand. Unless you are a multi-national, we suggest you spend your marketing dollars elsewhere.

5. Assuming your consumer speaks your brand’s language. Marketing or advertising filled with insider jargon, certification claims, and tons of “us” vs. “them” verbiage emphasizes the negatives instead of the lifestyle associated with the brand. These tactics won’t grow a brand, increase its sphere of influence (among people, not influencers), nor get into a new customer’s consideration set. This approach automatically assumes that your consumer-to-be speaks your language. In extreme instances, we have seen this create a retail environment where the front-line employees have been poisoned by the marketing team to think unflatteringly about customers. The right way is to use brand strategy to decide why your brand exists in the world and who you can help because of it. Once clear on your brand’s purpose, the act of profiling your audience moves from merely demographic and leans into ambition, hope, human tendencies, and inspiration. We all want to believe we are working toward becoming a better version of ourselves. Brands, when they consider real people to be worthy of them, help us get on and stay on the path.

6. Using squishy strategy so the creative team isn’t fenced in. The agency creates a strategy, the client signs off, and then… the creative team comes up with a cooler idea. So the agency is forced to change the strategy to match the creative concept. Abraham Lincoln once asked, “How many legs does a dog have if you count the tail?” He answered, “Four. Calling the tail a leg does not make it a leg.” Killer creative ideas are not brand strategy. Killer creative’s intent is to get people’s attention so that they notice (and buy) your brand. Brand strategy’s intent is to evolve the company, its culture, offerings, sales opportunities, and ultimately its contribution to society in order to grow a large tribe of believers both inside and outside the company. A case in point: In our work with Essentia Water, we inherited a brand strategy that was clearly designed to produce adverts filled with blonde women in white yoga pants sitting on the beach (despite the fact that the data pointed to a racially diverse audience focused on being active in radically diverse ways). After scrapping that strategy and building one from the ground up, says this brand is on fire.

Consumers’ needs, competition, marketplace, and channels all change. Which means positioning needs to be refined or overhauled every once in a while to make sure your brand stays relevant.

We recommend that each brand that we work with establishes a scheduled audit and tune-up at a minimum of five-year increments — unless something significant has happened with your market or something is NOT working. Obviously, if your brand is losing share, don’t wait five years to make a change. But you should also be aware that a brand strategy driven rebound takes take 12-24 months before you can sit back and know with confidence that you have nailed it.

If you have gone through a rebrand in the last 18-24 months and aren’t realizing growth, I suggest a reality check that begins with the following questions before blaming your current agency.

  1. Is your internal team truly following the new strategy or have you tweaked it to make yourselves more comfortable?
  2. Did your strategy produce an innovation pipeline that has retail buyers looking to your brand for what is next in the category?

If after careful reflection you feel like your agency has failed you, or it’s time for a tune-up, it may be time for Retail Voodoo.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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7 Questions Passion Brands Should Ask Before Investing in a Rebrand

Rebrands are expensive and can be well worth the effort. But marketing leaders only look at 1-2 indexes to determine the optimal timing and core components that should be in place to increase the likelihood of success.

This white paper (pink paper) breaks it all down to seven critical questions that need to be answered affirmatively in order for rebranding to move forward. When brands have these questions clearly answered, their rebranding efforts will be more than skin deep. Retail buyers are more likely to get behind a brand with a deep, resonant story over those that are merely skin deep design. And products will move off the shelf without deep discounting or any other sales and marketing ploys.

1) Does my sales team have a compelling brand story that opens doors and wins shelf space?

When a brand doesn’t have a clear and compelling point of difference in the marketplace, they often rely on charismatic founders and/or salespeople to make the sale or succumb to an overly aggressive high-low pricing strategy. This is limiting when your brand is a seen by the consumer, and therefore the buyer, as an “also-ran brand”.

2) Have we conducted an exhaustive competitive audit of multiple markets?

This will help you overcome the obstacle in question 1 as well as offer a reality check. Most people think their brand is more unique and uniquely positioned than it is. A category audit with boots-on-the-ground is the cure.

3) Have we performed a SWOT analysis on our own internal culture to assess our appetite for change?

If it looks like your team is too far out of alignment to manage change, we suggest looking for the typical suspects: conflicting agendas that fall within functional silos and out-of-touch benevolent dictators. The evidence looks like infighting, high turnover, and low employee satisfaction.

4) Do we have a comprehensive map of our existing consumers and an objective, data-driven overlay for future consumers?

Many passion brands attract employees who are dedicated to the lifestyle the brand projects. This is the most common reason the company’s untested opinions and assumptions become perceived as data. It’s easy to assume that your target audience is just like you. The problem with this sort of closed-loop thinking is that without research and an outside perspective you will tend to believe your ideas are in alignment with the marketplace needs. The first step is admitting that opinions are not data.

5) Does our brand currently own an emotional territory that no other brand in our category owns?

Brand lives in the heart and mind as a collection of feelings or emotions based upon a promise your company made and the manner in which your collective team kept said promise. If you are trying to build brand story out of product features and benefits, you are likely a commodity, not a brand.

6) Is our mission clear, concise, actionable and measurable?

Many mission statements feel like the product of a committee, watered-down, inoffensive and in-actionable corporate babble. And long… if every last one of your employees can’t remember your mission without a prompt, then it needs to be refreshed. We believe in the power of language and that a simple, memorable, measurable mission is the only way to get and keep your team, well, on mission. To test this theory, go ask the first three employees you find to recite your brand’s mission statement. How’d that go? Did they get it right? Did they struggle?

7) Is innovation part of our brand’s culture?

If your team is in the business of repackaging your core offering multiple ways, I have some bad news. That isn’t innovation. Meaningful brand-building innovation stems from a strategic plan and is not simply opportunistic. It should be easy to ideate new products and services that are a logical extension of your brand (promises made and kept) when you are operating from strategy.

Missing any of these items likely means your brand strategy is missing enough critical elements that a packaging design refresh is not likely to produce the results your company wants. We suggest you start at the beginning.

Check your score.

  • 6 or more and you are good to go. You clearly have a plan and a strong team in place.
  • 4-5 and you are close to ready. Make some bold strategic decisions prior to undertaking a rebrand.
  • 3 or less, it’s time to take a step back and evaluate your reasoning, then give us a call.
Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

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The Recipe Disney, Whole Foods & Adidas Use to Transform Employees into Brand Ambassadors

Good employees are hard to find. It’s an adage that seems to prove true with every generation. But as with all generalizations, there are caveats. As employers, we need to be aware of the influences that contribute to the success and failure of an employee.

In today’s economy, simply offering a job and paycheck isn’t going to cut it. “Golden handcuffs” (as we like to call them) aren’t what every person is interested in. Your brand must offer something else to create a truly loyal community of employees.

So many brands struggle to gain buy-in from their employees. Either they don’t care about your brand or they don’t understand it. If even your own employees don’t love your brand, surely customers don’t have reason to. In order to grow and retain an engaged employee fanbase, your brand will have to do some work internally.

In this piece, we answer the following common questions:

  • How do you make your employees your biggest brand advocates?
  • How do you use your brand to attract top talent?
  • What companies manage and retain employees well?
  • What are the key ingredients to keeping employees happy and engaged?

Let’s start at the beginning. If you have no vision, you have no future.

Everyone has a vision for their life. Or better said, everyone has a vision for some parts of their life. Some ideas are smaller than others, but a vision nonetheless. Employment is one part of that vision.

It starts very young. We are asked as children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We play sports, we join clubs, and we take on hobbies. And then one day, we are launched into adulthood and we try to keep our passion going. We align ourselves with brands and companies who either share our passions or at least foster them. And naturally, we envision ourselves working for the brands we love and know.

Given the choice, no one wants to work for a company that only wants to increase revenue. Everyone wants to be part of something bigger. We can look to Whole Foods, Adidas, and Disney as stellar examples of brands whose fan base includes employees. These brands know how to recruit, motivate, and inspire customers. And who else would be more qualified for the job than someone who’s already a customer?

A Sprinkle of Mission & Vision

Now, I’d like to introduce you to the BHAG. Originally outlined by James Collins and Jerry Porras in “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies,” BHAG is short for “Big Hairy Audacious Goal.” Essentially, it’s a long-term goal that changes the very nature of a business’ existence. At Retail Voodoo, we use this term and point-of-view frequently when starting the brand strategy process. In fact, every company starts with a BHAG – it just gets lost in the P&Ls, M&As, and desire for the bonus at the end of the tunnel. But when a company and brand adheres to that BHAG in every aspect of their business, that’s when the magic happens.

Often, a company’s vision is expressed in their mission statement. Let’s look a couple of examples:

  1. Applegate: Changing the meat we eat.
  2. Patagonia: Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
  3. Starbucks: To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.
  4. Walmart: We save people money so they can live better.
  5. REI: A national outdoor retail co-op dedicated to inspiring, educating and outfitting its members and the community for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.

We know these BHAGs work because they adhere to the building blocks of a mission statement.

A quality mission statement should:

  • Include a goal that is an action
  • Avoid sentiment
  • Be specific and quantifiable
  • Change lives (stands for something other than simply selling a product or service).

If your mission statement can’t be easily memorized or is so full of “corporate speak” people can’t tell what company you’re talking about – you’ve got it wrong. Go back to the drawing board.

And if you need an example of a failing mission statement, look no further than Kroger: “Our mission is to be a leader in the distribution and merchandising of food, pharmacy, health and personal care items, seasonal merchandise, and related products and services.” It leaves you completely uninspired and speaks nothing of value to the customer, community, or soul of the business.

With a solid strategy-based mission statement, it becomes much easier to translate your operations and speak to your employees. Your mission distills your brand strategy into a simple bite-sized boundary that your employees can now easily buy into.

A Dash of Leadership

Leadership starts at the top and is visible all the way down to the frontline employees. Oftentimes, leaders like to see themselves as the smartest people in the room or smartest in their industry or the smartest at, well, everything. That’s not a good sign. If you rely on a few key people to be the smartest and best in your organization, you create a bottleneck.

Leadership should be more like coaching. Think of sports teams. That coach, being a good leader, knows they are there to inspire and groom members of the team. They are not out calling the plays or overseeing the medical staff – they inspire and grow another team of leaders who then go on to inspire each other and so forth.

Since they’re busy coaching and know how to coach well, they hire people they can trust to do the other work they might not have the time or experience to do. They know what they know and more importantly, they know what they don’t know. They hire people that best fill the gaps in their knowledge base. Good coaches encourage teams to work together and identify, nurture, and mentor future leaders.

Howard Schultz’s humble beginnings and his father’s experience with crappy employer/employee relations lead to the Starbucks BHAG. Schultz shares his passion so frequently that his employees own it, rally around it, and live it out through leadership that is almost unparalleled in any other employer with such a sizable minimum-wage force. Employees live the Starbucks vision at a corporate level all the way to the frontline barista making your grande latte with that triple shot of sugar-free vanilla syrup.

A Cup of Nurture & Care

If a company cares for its employees, the employees will care for the company. For sure. However, most companies translate a foosball table, an endless supply of snacks, and some health benefits as the ways to care for employees. And they are, but these items are table stakes. Let’s look at what Starbucks recently did after the natural disasters in Texas and Florida. Inc.’s Wanda Thibodeaux covers the situation well. After the storm, a total of 1,100 Starbucks stores were forced to close and approximately 15,600 workers and their families were impacted by the storms. In response, Starbucks offered catastrophic pay to employees who couldn’t work because of the storms and offered grants for additional aid to employees for rebuilding their lives. What a relief to these families, most of them frontline employees. Here Starbucks lives by their mission of nurturing the human spirit, and in this case, those humans are employees. Not all companies can afford this sort of support. That is not the point. The goal is to find a way that your company can take care of its employees that is a direct expression of your brand.

A Tablespoon of Career Paths

As most employees are on a personal career journey, brands should offer career paths that provide growth opportunities. Small companies have different career path opportunities than larger, more layered and divisional companies. Either way, be prepared for that conversation and even market the possibilities, like General Mills and Costco do. If you are smaller, it’s OK to have one person in a role. Leadership can still identify responsibilities that can be transferred to that role as the person grows. Knowing what a potential career path looks like, and then mentoring those employees is a very important part of employee happiness. Which brings us to our next ingredient.

A Teaspoon of Learning, Testing & Mentoring

The more you encourage employees to participate in shaping and implementing your brand experience, the more your employees will want to commit to the success of your brand. Career paths are great to have, but unless you have opportunities for learning and a pointed direction, the promise for advancement will fall flat.

At Retail Voodoo, we call it “Jedi Training.” It’s a little corny, yes, but Star Wars fans get the connection. We have the teacher and the student, and both know their roles. We tell all prospective employees during the interview process that our firm is a learning environment. And it needs to be one because we promise our clients that we will change the trajectory of their business (rather than just make cool stuff). Then we provide all employees with a set of books to read as part of their onboarding process. It helps level set and allows learning from the same sources as the rest of the team. Then, during quarterly reviews, we review their learning along with their performance, to make sure they continue to grow and push outside of their comfort zone. Our goal is for them to be empowered and stay with us. But if they do leave, they will be much smarter, better, and faster than when they came in. If for whatever reason they aren’t, then we have not done our job as employers who embody their brand.

You’re probably thinking, “I don’t have time for that.” We suggest you find the time. Employee turnover is a very expensive and labor-inducing process. Develop a plan around your brand strategy and mission and then spread the training and mentoring responsibility around to others on the team for added strength.

Those that embrace coaching will stay and become an indispensable, passionate part of the company. And those that aren’t coachable will leave. In the end, it will give you an opportunity to find a better fit. If your employees are coachable, that’s a great indicator of success and potential. Show them that you’re willing to invest time and energy into them, and they’ll do the same for your brand.

A Pinch of Empowerment

Empowerment is a strange beast. The dictionary defines empowerment as “authority or power given to someone to do something, or the process of becoming strong and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.”

In business, empowerment means that you, the leadership, hand over some responsibilities and decision-making powers to others in the company. It can also mean brands allow employees to be ambassadors out in the world on their behalf.

For brands that aren’t dialed into this thinking, there is typically a lot of middle management to wrangle and dictate the bulk of the employee actions on some of the most trivial issues. Leadership should only be involved in issues that cannot be resolved or are simply too challenging to tackle. The more successful a brand, the more those decisions should be parsed out using the mission as the guiding force and benchmark. The more empowered the company, the more powerful the brand.

Let’s look at Patagonia. Love them or hate them, you know exactly what they stand for. And so do their employees. Patagonia’s approach to empowerment extends so far beyond the boundary of retail that it’s sometimes hard to know where the brand ends.

Many brands approach this direction by trying to figure out how to fix what’s broken when instead they should leverage the strength of those key employees that personify the brand’s ethos and mission — And use their dedication and commitment as fuel to grow an employee base that can help solve those problems beforehand. The simplest approach is allowing your employees to make decisions in the best interest of the customer.

A Pint of Recognition

This is a tricky ingredient. Without a definition of what recognition means in your company, employees will rely on weekly meetings, daily attaboys or the oft-dreaded annual review. This isn’t very effective in growing long-term, passionate employees.

We helped to developed key employee rewards programs at REI to leverage their mission in a meaningful way outside of compensation. Our research showed that outside of the outdoors themselves, REI employees valued quality gear and time off to be in the outdoors. We helped REI define and market their President’s Award to give gear and paid time off to employees who significantly contributed to upholding the brand’s mission. REI also introduced another more elite annual award for managers and corporate employees who best channeled the spirit of founder, Lloyd Anderson.

A Cup of Co-Authoring 

The culmination of all the above ingredients is co-authorship. If your brand already has many of the above ingredients above, this is the cherry on your employee engagement sundae. Congratulations! If your employees are feeling the love from all your efforts, they now get to participate in “spreading the gospel.”

The expectancy theory says that people are motivated by how much they want a certain outcome and the chance they have of achieving it.

We look to Patagonia again as an example of a brand that thrives by encouraging employees to co-author the brand’s mission. It’s very much an activist company. They encourage employees to become involved in environmental campaigns and to give back to the community. They provide grants and support to employees pursuing the betterment of nature and humankind. This empowers employees to participate in shaping an organization that allows them to afford their values by bringing them into the workplace.

Combine All Ingredients to Create Powerful Culture

When you blend all of these ingredients together, you can see we’re really talking about company culture. Knowing what your company stands for will help your employees enroll in your brand and a clear vision will help better identify right-fit candidates. But the key to participation isn’t simply the employees, it’s a leadership-inspired, branded employee culture, which becomes a self-feeding machine. It all starts with your brand vision.

So, next time you ask yourself how to inspire employees, start with your brand. The ingredients above are the recipe you need for success.

Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

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The Seven Musts of Marketing

Retail Voodoo has developed a diagnostic tool around what we believe are “The Seven Musts of Marketing.” We use this series of seven critical marketing disciplines to benchmark our clients’ brand within their respective category. This process simplifies the communication strategy across multiple channels and streamlines the messaging into a cohesive, ownable narrative that delivers a brand’s message to critical audiences.

Over the course of time, this tool evolved into a pyramid because it helps everyone involved to see clearly how each of these marketing disciplines ladder into one another. The theory is simple: a strong foundation is the key to any structure (whether physical or abstract). In the case of the “Seven Musts,” an outage in the foundation will cause the communication hierarchy to collapse like an imbalanced pyramid.

During our work with many, many brands, we have had the good fortune to refine and optimize this diagnostic tool to make it useful to even the most academic of CEOs and skeptical CMOs in the world of food and beverage, wellness, and outdoor fitness. The “Seven Musts” have evolved with technology and our focused practice of brand transformation, through our strategy-first philosophy (e.g. advertising used to be much more important with multiple channels and social didn’t exist when we first started crafting our theories over 20 years ago).

While reading through this Retail Voodoo Pink Paper we hope you consider your own brand, its narrative arch, and ponder the impact of holistic brand strategy across your marketing systems.

We ask a series of simple questions for each of the “layers” or “musts” in the pyramid. The answers are then used against a rubric of what perfection could look like for each brand. We then compare all the communication musts a brand needs to compete effectively in its given category. When complete, we compile the answers into a version of the pyramid and benchmark our client and its competitive set within the context of those answers.

This article is written from the top down, so you as a reader can experience the gravity of how the layers connect. We believe this will aid you to think of your own brand while exploring the layers. However, our work actually occurs in reverse order based upon a different kind of gravity – just like ancient civilizations, we must build our pyramids from the ground up, one layer at a time.


Social media sits at the top of our pyramid because it’s low cost and easy to do. But because it’s cheap and easy, a lot of people get it wrong.

Brands become overconfident with their content and spend too much time mimicking the competition. They start thinking they can buy engagement (or buy likes). But we all know that likes – and even engagement – do not necessarily translate into sales. They simply give the illusion of this.

Think Your Content is Unique? Swap Logos with a Competitor and Think Again

Brands fail to have a successful social media presence when their content isn’t ownable. In other words, we see brands lacking a point of view or a unique tone of voice. One of the tests that we run to check for this involves swapping out logos of products in different posts with their competitors’ logos. If you can replace the brand’s logo with any of its competitors,’ then the content lacks originality and won’t stand out to consumers. This perfectly highlights how much like their competitors they look, so they understand the need for change.

It’s remarkable how each category tends to have its own distinct generic look and feel. Once brands break out of this mold and define their perspective, they demonstrate how their product is meaningfully different in the marketplace.

Show How Your Product Fits into Your Audience’s Lifestyle

We often see brands aligning their product with too many lifestyles – diluting their message and lacking consistent storytelling. However, success stems from focusing in on a specific, targeted audience. Instead of showing your product simply existing in a lifestyle, share how it lives and fits within that lifestyle.

Our partners at DRY Sparkling nail the concept of a “lifestyle brand” perfectly. They use social to drive engagement and have a clear and distinct reason for why social exists for their brand. Their strategy is rooted in a deeper understanding of their audience. During the brand strategy process we identified the DRY audience consisting of a metropolitan-minded woman (amongst other attributes). We mixed together different lifestyles that made sense when put through DRY’s filter – a little bit of foodie with a little bit girls-night-out thrown in. Their consumers look at their social media and instantly see how DRY fits into their everyday life and understands them rather than just pushing product at them.

Vary Your Content to Speak to Individual Niches

It is important to have a variety of content to speak to different audience segments and address different needs. For example, if you were to have ten posts; we would prescribe two should be educational, four should be aspirational around life, and four could be about product. A healthy mix keeps your audience interested and engaged.

When we started with Sahale Snacks, they had a powerful social channel, and when we assessed them, the top of their pyramid was completely glowing yellow. However, the brand struggled to create trial-and-use education. They integrated lifestyle into their marketing, but the depiction of too many different lifestyles confused their customers. As a result, they just didn’t know how or when to enjoy their product.

Now, the brand focuses on engaging consumers and educating them on how the brand fits into their daily life. They show how their products can seamlessly jump from one life situation to the next, while maintaining that gourmet, friendly feel.

So, how do you measure if your social strategy is effective and provides value to your brand? If you are growing organically – not through purchased engagement or exchanging coupons for likes – it’s a good sign. You want people sharing your content and actively talking about it.


Before the days of email and text messages, direct marketing simply meant post cards and snail mail. Today, direct has evolved into an opt-in, subscription-based world. This type of Direct gives brands the power to engage in conversations with consumers in a longer format and on a more intimate level. It provides the opportunity to tell your brand story in a way that you cannot do with social. Since you’re taking the time to get people to engage beyond the deal, this is not the place to be couponing.

Invite Consumers into Your Narrative

Let’s use the example of Alden’s Ice Cream’s newsletter. While they used to just share a photo of someone enjoying ice cream on a sunny day because it’s hot, they now provide value beyond the product. Instead of saying, “Hey, it’s hot! It’s July! You should eat tons of vanilla ice cream!” they now say, “Here’s how to make an ice cream birthday cake from this product.”

Then they introduce you to the 40 family farms they created relationships with  to sustain multi-generational organic farming, making consumers feel like do-gooders by association. All they have to do is eat ice cream – tough break, right? Telling this type of deeper story helps the audience feel like they contribute to that family farm. As a result, price no longer becomes an issue.

We see a huge opportunity for companies to adopt “old school” direct in a new way. This includes producing bespoke pieces that have a higher production value. Think of versioning and back-end marketing integration that speaks directly to the customer and invites them to have a them-focused conversation about your products and services.

Although direct mail is also easy to do, it takes a little bit more effort than social media. However, it gives brands the opportunity to be more intimate and have a conversation with the key consumers. Your brand must take the time to get them involved in why you exist beyond product.


The digital world and the physical world come together on websites. They need to be deep, robust, and chock full of information, where people feel they can spend time learning about your brand. You want your customer to be able to come to your site and dig deep into who you are, why you exist, and how they can get involved. Use your website to move visitors from merely buying products to a place where they can get involved in everything your brand stands for beyond the transaction.

A Website Should Not Be a Brochure

Your website should be alive and constantly changing so that people have a reason to come back to it. Since users will come to your site from any page, we see websites as a powerful way to encourage users to “choose their own adventure.” This way, no matter where a visitor enters, they can easily navigate to information that is relevant to them, all while being surprised and delighted along the way. This means brands need to think about the kind of content they produce, how it’s getting out into the world, where people are likely to find it, and how they might come to the site. Once you have customers on the site, you must figure out how to drive them to your calls-to-action. When users take these steps, your brand will increase loyalty, overcome price resistance, and ultimately make sales.

Offering website visitors promo codes and deals dilutes your message. You’ve already done something of higher value to get visitors to site in the first place, so to have the discounts and coupons be the thing that they connect with makes them less likely to engage in why you exist beyond the deal. That is really what your website should be all about; why you’re here beyond the deal, why you’re here beyond the transaction, and why you exist in the world beyond making money. That is the key to helping people move from customers to stark-raving fans.

Living Intentions does a terrific job of integrating storytelling, design, and values-based communication into their e-commerce platform. They help the consumer understand why the ingredients are so expensive, what they mean when they talk about sustainability, and why their particular approach is so rare in the world. By having their own e-commerce platform, they control pricing much more easily as well. While they also sell on Amazon and do well there, they cannot control the prices of third-party vendors or other retailers. By having their own e-commerce platform and being able to have their story right there, it reduces the possibility of mistrust.

On the other hand, selling from your own website is not always the smartest business choice. Let’s take DRY for example. Before we worked with them, they were shipping cases of product directly to clients, and it was eating into their margin. Shipping individual cases of soda in glass bottles across the country is expensive. Our recommendation for DRY was actually to move to an Amazon platform because that way, the price included the shipping.

All-in-all, websites should not be brochures but interactive engagement beyond the deal. It’s your chance to tell your huge story about why you exist in the world and why people should care.


As we look at in-store, we look through the lens of brand – specifically focused on packaging design systems where you have products on the shelf of a retail experience when your brand doesn’t own the store.

30-10-3 Rule

Our basic guideline to evaluate the strength of a brand’s in-store presentation is called the “30-10-3” rule. Here is how it works:

At 30 feet, your packaging should help identify the category.
At 10 feet, your consumers should be able to read your brand’s tradedress or core identity (and ideally your logo) in order to navigate to it from feet away.
At 3 feet, your story, features, benefits, and purpose should be so compelling that consumers pick up your package and allow it to whisper in their ear. After all, once your product is in a person’s hand, they’re more likely to buy.

Category Navigation

The simplest way to make category navigation understood is to have you visualize looking for milk in the grocery store. The vessels, varieties, and design language all work together to instantly telegraph milk.

Now let’s think about how this might work at REI or Dick’s Sporting Goods. Our partner Body Glide is a great example of this. They used to disappear on shelf; they looked like every other product within the category. We helped them revolutionize their look and we set them up so that now they are – without any question – the category navigator for athletic anti-chafe balm at 30 feet. You can drive straight to it. The color system and the new identity we built for them makes their packaging the de facto category navigation. And this all happens within seconds, without the consumer realizing.

Brand Blocking

When your product lives in a box you don’t control in an environment you don’t control, brand blocking is crucial. Essentially, this is where a consumer can easily identify your product and all offerings within that line. Color and identity come into play here. This works even if you only get three facings. If you have a good system, you’ll stand out.

While walking through the Philadelphia Airport recently, our team noticed a brand with a significant number of facings – so many that it’s actually intimidating (their sales team are true rock stars). Unfortunately, their packaging is recessive and looks like a value-priced generic version or low-end private label. Subsequently, all of the smaller brands with stronger packaging, better brand blocking, and more legible identities stand out and disrupt the shelf more effectively.

Design Aesthetics

When we think about design aesthetics, we want your brand to look like it belongs in the life of today’s shopper (and does not look frumpy, old, outdated, or that the particular item could have been sitting on the shelf since the 1980’s). Yes, an outdated look implies to today’s busy shopper that your product may have been sitting on that shelf for the last 37 years. It’s important to match the contemporary vision lexicon of your product category, while trying to be at the forefront of that. That’s how brands become disruptive at shelf – whether you like it or not. If you can’t disrupt, your brand will likely compete on price (and nobody wins on price, except Walmart).

Packaging That Whispers In Your Ear

In-store is your first, best, and most-likely sales person. Sometimes, the shelf is the only touch point the consumer has with your brand. You need to make sure your brand can show up in a meaningful way to get your potential consumers to give you permission to whisper in their ear.

Teton Waters Ranch packaging is a good example that follows the 30-10-3 rule all the way through. They use an intentional mix of visually compelling imagery and iconography combined with easy-to-use information (such as the check-list of “no baddies”).

This package excels in storytelling, brand building, and overcoming price resistance. We call this passing the “flip test.” The flip test is best demonstrated while waiting in line at Starbucks. Next time you are there, take notice the carefully curated offering of innovative snacks. Then, notice how intimate their packaging feels. Pay attention as you instinctively flip the package over in order to engage in its ingredients, nutrition content, brand promise, and narrative.


Advertising is an essential tier of the pyramid, but is losing relevance quickly. Marketing is moving away from “Command and Control” methodologies – pushing your offering out to a world that had little choice but to receive your message. In today’s world, many users choose not to engage in media where advertising exists at all (think Netflix). Modern humans have rewired our brains to ignore invasive communications like banner ads.

That said, advertising needs to provoke people to think about your brand. It’s about stopping consumers in their tracks and demanding attention. It’s repetition. But it really is more of an art than a science.

Brands need to communicate how they are meaningfully different in a show-stopping way. Similar to social, when benchmarking a brand’s advertising, we will swap out competitor logos and put them on the ads to see if they are interchangeable.

We find that each category tends to have this insider baseball conversation happening, which is great for all the marketers within that category, but it doesn’t often translate for consumers. With this strategy, there’s no opportunity for brands to grow or new audiences to stem from it.

Who’s in Your Tribe and How Will They Recognize Your Call?

Once you identify who’s in your tribe, you have permission to kick everyone else out – which feels very counterintuitive at first. But it’s the best way to see real growth and it invites like-minded humans to come to you.

This is where advertising gets more into the art versus science. Successful advertising that speaks to your tribe comes down to tone and voice. You must make sure your tribe can recognize your unique call. This is what a good friend of ours calls “the dog whistle.” Only those you’ve identified as members of your tribe will hear your brand’s silent call, and leave all others unable to hear it and therefore, unable to opt-in to your brand.

To make sure your ads are in front of the right people, you need a terrific media buying partner. This person will show you the data of how your tribe lives, works, and shops.

Essentia is a terrific example of using advertising to invite people to join a movement. While the category has grown steadily for the last four years, Essentia experienced twice as much growth as everyone else in this category. They attribute this to the repositioning of their brand and a deeper understanding of their ideal audience (and then having a smart media partner).

In advertising, be brave but be values-based. Be who you really are based upon what you can do for the world, and don’t just be a product.


Public relations sounds so easy. After all, it’s really just placing stories and getting respected third parties to talk about you. But when viewed through the lens of brand building, PR is is an integral foundation of all of the other “Marketing Musts.”

A concentrated, focused PR campaign should be part of every brand relaunch. Developing an advertising campaign, in-store experience, direct and or social program that includes a supporting PR arm is far more effective than one without.

How do you create naturally occurring (organic) evangelists for the brand? For people to swear by your brand, your story needs to be good. Really good. It must be way beyond just explaining the technical functionality. Earned media touches on emotional storytelling and human connection, followed by functionality, features, and benefits. Yes, you can get into the nitty-gritty details, but it needs to have a personal story to it as well. Otherwise people won’t care.

Make Technicalities Easy-to-Digest

When you have something that has a technical component to it or a complex benefit structure, getting third party experts to speak to the benefits in a scientific, yet human way can be extremely challenging, but still most effective.

All the medical, nutritional claims (whether real or imaginary) overtly expressed or implied will be met with the hint of skepticism if your story doesn’t include, well, your story. Instead of pushing the nutritional education or science on the public we advocate that you get personal with your origin story and then let it compel people to discover the science of your offering on their own.

If you insist on weaving science into everyday life, make it tangible. Don’t tell us what happens in a laboratory (or worse, in a focus group). Instead, share with us how it worked on a weekend trip with your family and friends.

People Say All PR is Good PR, But That Doesn’t Mean It’s Smart PR

Ask yourself – is this a compelling story? Are we easily gaining earned media? We caution all founders, brand owners, and people looking for a PR agency: just because you get your brand mentioned in stories doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the right placements. Quantity does not necessarily equal quality.

Recently we had a new client that was featured in the same issue of a nationally respected health magazine in two different articles. While the PR firm was busy high-fiving over cocktails to celebrate their double-placement, we had to gently point out to the client that the first article was about the evils of their category (listing them as least evil) and the other was about which health benefits were absent in their product.

Know who you are as a brand, what promises you will make, and then how you want to show up. Ultimately, you have to know your target audience and how they consume media.


In an era of eroding trust for brands and hyper-choice in nearly all categories, customer education forms the foundation of our entire “Seven Musts of Marketing” pyramid. It plays to the other “Musts” because without customer education, your pyramid will topple over. Customer education is your opportunity to explain why you exist in the world beyond your products, and then to weave the reasons into your “why” (why your business exists beyond making a profit). It’s your brand’s chance to get people to buy into your mission and your vision of how you’re going improve the world.

This is also the place where you can make any complex or technical functionality easier to understand. We see this at play frequently in highly technical outdoor gear, functional foods, and complex consumer goods. Brands often make the mistake of drowning people in information to the point that consumers cannot hear or absorb what they’re being told.

The opportunity to explain your technical details gets more meaningful when you clarify what your brand stands for and how you integrate your mission into your products. If you do this in a completely jargon-free way, your brand will be stronger at overcoming price objection.

One of the things Essentia struggled with for years was how to explain the benefits of their product without sounding like either a bunch of hype or a rigid scientist. It got to the point where people who had never tried the product were responding with strong skepticism to paid media. When Essentia simply told their founder’s story and connected his humble beginnings to the idea behind their overachieving H20 tagline (and offered an invitation to join their movement), it encouraged people to connect the idea of superior hydration to their lives.

In conclusion, customer education is really your first and best opportunity to explain why you exist in the world and what your products and your brand stands for beyond featuring the benefits. You can then bring features and details into that conversation and talk about your brand in a way that helps customers evangelize for you.

A strong foundation in customer education is the key to any branded messaging structure. Then a robust and highly focused PR campaign will build a platform so that your customer education is readily available. Advertising is an important part of any growth plan, but care should be taken to make certain it’s delivering against what makes your brand unique. In-store is critical because it’s often the first and only expression of you brand a new consumer will see. Lastly direct and social are the ways to converse with your audience.

Retail Voodoo’s version of the “Seven Must of Marketing” is best viewed holistically as a series of critical marketing disciplines we use to benchmark our clients’ within their category. Our goal is to simplify their communication with a unique narrative that works across multiple channels.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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From Data to Insight: Measuring the Warmth of a Smile

As a brand owner, it’s no secret you’ve been entrusted with your company’s most valuable asset: your brand. Data plays a significant role in your drive to understand your most valued customer, what they care about, and how to convert them into loyal fans. It’s also no secret that data alone does not equal knowledge, and data is only valuable if it can be translated into measurable and actionable insights. We seek the kind of insights that give you a chill knowing you just found the proverbial needle in the haystack. Revealing a key insight is hard and requires substantial empathy. Chris Hart put it best when he said, “All the statistics in the world can’t measure the warmth of a smile.”

We can think of data as a recipe. Anyone can put ingredients together and cook a meal. However, only a chef that can create an original recipe, tell you where to get the right ingredients and tools, or know how to modify a recipe based off their experience, even how to garnish and plate it. Not everyone can do that – it takes a lot of experience and a bit of magic. This is the same with data. All that information doesn’t make sense unless you know what you need, what you’re looking for, where to find it, and have the expertise to identify it.

The Shiny and New Data

We’ve seen plenty of marketing experts choose the color blue because it was on trend. Alright, that’s a bit of an over-simplification, but let’s look at Sears as an example. They are brand that has been around for years and is trusted by blue collar, suburban families to help them live the American dream by selling trusted durable brands at a fair price. Did you know that at one point, someone in the organization decided that they should sell luxury handbags on their website? Yes, that’s right – they were selling Gucci, Prada and other designer labels. Why would they do this? Well, because at the time, luxury brand sales were surging and Sears was desperate to regain their brand strength. Without looking at the data that supported their core audience and what was important to them, they chose to look at other data that was “shiny and new.” As a result, they further alienated this core audience, and were unable to woo the customer they thought they could attract.

Measuring the Warmth of a Smile

So, here’s the rub: Data is processed through a highly-contextualized lens by the person looking at it. Using the same data-set, different people can come to different conclusions based on shared history, context or other predispositions – just like our Sears example. Revealing and measuring the “warmth of a smile” is where the art and the science of interpretation becomes critical.

We start with the basic premise that true, game-changing interpretation of data often only reveals itself by going deep (as opposed to wide). It’s not because we don’t also cast a wide net, it’s because the Retail Voodoo way requires that the data either be insightful and useful in our quest to help our client’s transformation, or it’s fire insurance. Founder David Lemley often says, “We have climbed off hundreds of mountains of data in the food, beverage, wellness and outdoor fitness worlds. This has helped us see our role as detective and translator using a sixth sense about what will provide meaningful insight to our client’s particular challenge.”

Turning Raw Data into Insight

Raw data comes in a myriad of shapes, sizes and sources. Parsing through it to find the magic can be daunting, so we start by asking the following questions:

  1. What problems are we trying to answer?
  2. What are the best research tools for answering these questions?
  3. How will answers to these questions further our client’s stated goals and success metrics?
  4. What is the cultural context that our client’s brand lives within?
  5. How can we leverage data to create meaningful consumer connections?
  6. Who is translating your data
  7. What is your data telling you?

Once you dig deep to answer these questions, you’ll understand the magic of extracting insights from data. You’ll find meaningfully different information that will drive concrete financial and cultural results for your brand.

Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

Connect with Diana